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Saturday, January 15, 2005 

The Clothes Make the (Wo)Man

How do you dress and what does it mean…

I think I’ve been waiting all my life for someone to ask me this question and not “what are you wearing?” because that would imply a naughty telephone call, but wait, that also might imply a red-carpet inquiry… to which I HOPE the answer would be “Why, it’s a Chanel, of course…Duh, Joan, can’t you see the interlocking double C’s emblazoned in rhinestones across my bosom? Or are you too bedazzled by my glittering, 4” heeled Louboutin’s that seem to magically float about my feet?” That’s what I’d say… whoa, wait… Let me wipe the drool from the desk top and let’s start again.

And I am going to be totally honest and frank with you because I do not have to see you or face you at a social function where you or I are receiving an award and we are all nervous and on our best behavior and we’re all trying to be gracious and seem successful and popular. I have nothing to hide from you the blog-reading audience… almost…so…

All divine nature aside, we are basically a visual animal. We function heavily on visual cues. When we are young, we dress/act in predictable styles to form a tight (and seemingly safe) social group; hence the distinct “herds” you see roaming the local mall: the blond, pink-frosted-lipped, puffy-jacket-wearing “muffy” girls, the over-ratted-hair, exposed pierced-navel, lots of eyeliner girls, the mustachioed young men of the Latin persuasion, the longish-hair, jaunty/disheveled “preppy” boys, the ubiquitous Goths, etc… (Did you come to any personal conclusions about the groups I just described? Just wondering…)

In our Junior High and High School efforts to proclaim individuality and assert independence, we succumb to the most basic visual clichés, on purpose, so that we can belong. In our efforts to feel special, unique, we conform. Thus it has been and thus it will ever be…

Hopefully, we ease into a more personal and confident sense of style as we mature, but the ball and chain of personal independence is caring about what other people think. But do not fear, we all do it… so much so that everyone is spending so much time worrying about themselves that they have little time to worry about others…

We’ve all experienced a time when we dressed more for others than for ourselves. For instance, until I got a job and bought my own clothes, my parents guided us to choose clothes that were modest and I chose clothes that wouldn’t rock the boat. (Except, remember some of those “jogging” style shorts in the 80’s with the contrasting piping? Very short…and we all wore them…you know you did… with knee high tube socks with stripes at the top…).

I’ll divert for a sec and share a moment from when I lived in New Jersey, I experienced something totally unique: very weak, if any, cliques. That’s right folks, it was a social utopia of sorts. While there were very specific groups of people (preppies, jocks, burn-outs, metal heads, sluts, etc) we were all friends. It was amazing. But although there were few social barriers, our clothes still separated us into our various “herds.” The preps wore khakis with docksiders and sweaters, the jocks wore their jackets, the metal heads wore their hair long, tight black jeans, and black concert t-shirts, and the sluts wore short, tight skirts, and HUGE hair and LOTS of eyeliner (preferably blue). If you wanted to change social groups, you changed how you dressed; and there were defections and conversions to other groups all the time. But miraculously, it didn’t change who you could be friends with. I didn’t wear short tight spandex skirts because I didn’t want to be perceived a certain way, that’s not the image I wanted to project about myself. That’s not how I felt inside, all short skirty and stuff…

Who is going to be the first to comment on the fact that they COULDN’T tell who the “slutty” girls were in their high school by the way they dressed? I open this question up for discussion as to how/why/if this changes as adults… I think adults are more judgmental, in general. I think kids just naturally operate on those visual cues that say “dress like this to be this person”… so how does that change in later years? I would say that as youngsters, we follow the clichés to the letter, whereas adults do not. But the visual cues are set in our minds as youth, and sometimes they carry over into adulthood. You CANNOT tell what a person is like as an adult by what they wear. Think of all those horrible, perverted serial killers who walk around wearing turtle necks and polyester pants…and bad hair cuts…and outdated glasses…

Now looking back upon my youth from the “grown-up” perspective, I’m grateful that if my parents erred in the ways of style guidance, they did so on the side of conservatism so that I understood the boundaries and made certain clothing habits in preparation for covenants to be made in later life.

However, as I got older I made more independent choices that weren’t necessarily according to my parent’s guidelines. For instance, I remember in college choosing a black skirt for my waitress job (way cute – pleats…) that was SO much shorter than skirts I usually wore (this one was almost mid-thigh – gasp!). I didn’t feel immodest (and I got better tips… tee-hee). And this was in PROVO! I didn’t feel stared at or singled out, but I also didn’t care. The skirt wasn’t BYU standard, but I didn’t feel it was immodest. Just because something is appropriate for life/work and not for school/church does not, in my mind, make people hypocrites for wearing it. I hadn’t yet made temple covenants of a higher level of modesty, and I had nice legs (HAD being the operative word here…*sniff*). I was less concerned with choosing clothes according to what other people might think of me, and more concerned with expressing what I felt inside: attractive, young, energetic… ahhh…those were the days.

The standards of temple modesty ARE different from general modesty. Our fault as Mormons comes when we impose those higher standards upon those who are not ready/willing to make those covenants. Most parents want their children to make the same choices they made, so they prepare the child through life to do or not do certain things. Modesty is just one of those things. ‘Nough said on that…

As I get older, I find that I can’t rely on the visual cues from my youth. Thanks to Abercrombie & Fitch and the like, even the “nice” girls don’t look so nice to me anymore. It is considered “virginal” to have long legs that go all the way up to the butt we almost see, and to have just a sliver of abdomen peeping out. Young people have totally new visual cues from the ones I had. These days hardly anyone is wearing spandex skirts (I hope), but perhaps one of the new cues of overt sexiness is a purposely-showing, sparkly-meant-to-be-seen thong? I don’t know… I should ask some girls…I tried, but no one was home…

I do believe clothes make the (wo-)man. No, seriously. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. I TiVo every episode of TLC’s “What Not to Wear” which makes me an expert on the subject of fashion and dressing appropriately. I honestly believe that changing how you dress can change how you feel. Why do you think women wear lingerie? We might need the boost a little lace, some leather, and some studs can give us in the “feeling sexy” department. Don’t take me too seriously, but watch an episode of “What Not to Wear” to get my point. It changes people’s lives sometimes to simply change what they wear.

Why do some people not keep up with fashion? And by fashion I’m not talking about trendy super stylish, I mean holding on to jeans and pants and shirts from 10 years ago so that the CUT of the clothes is no longer current? Don’t give me the money excuse, because Wal-Mart and Target carry cute modern clothes that are affordable. The shallow part of me thinks it’s because people get out of touch, or caught up in the fact that they USED to be in style that they don’t pay attention to the world at large.

But I think a better reason is that personal style and age appropriateness plays heavily into people’s choices. My mother (age 54 size 6 or 8) is a little hottie. After 7 kids, she still looks amazing. I do not take after her genes so I am always trying to get her to try on some “new” jeans partly because I want to see her style updated just a tad, and partly because I wish I were her size. This last visit she reminded me that at her age she wanted to maintain a certain level of decorum, and that the jeans I wanted her to wear did not express how she felt. I needed to keep in mind that to me she dresses like a Mom (very nice, but “mom-ish”), but to herself and to her peers, she was well dressed and age appropriate. Point well taken, Mom.

So basically, there is a time and a place. There is a time for young, hottie clothes, and a time for responsible adult clothes. A time for hire-me clothes, and a time for let’s-go-out-tonight-honey clothes…. Personally, there are also signing-karaoke clothes, trying-out-for-reality-TV clothes, party-clothes (and shoes), and hanging-around-my-house-in-jewels-and-sparkles clothes… May we all be able to discern the difference…

In the name… Ha… just kidding.

Why are you so articulate? No, seriously, I'm asking. It interests me because my field is rhetoric (not fashion)so I'm hoping to steer the conversation in that direction. (I don't think it will work.) Well done.

PS:In my school we called cowboys "F dudes." Isn't that a funny name? Our ward now consists of F dudes and F chicks.  

Posted by Kacy

Dear me... I think you've said it all.

Couple of things, though: When you wore the waitressing skirt, were you a student of BYU? Because you're supposed to follow the dress standards wherever you are so long as you're a student there. If you were a student there, how did you deal with that?

I find adults to be LESS judgemental than kids. I work with 12-14 year olds and they make snap judgements continually, often with harmful consequences. I think that many adults can refrain from judgement (for some length of time), which is a sign of maturity. 

Posted by Kaycee

I love getting to know you better, Carrie Ann, after all these years. You're a gem.

Posted by Suzie Petunia

I LOVE that your lingerie consists of lace leather and studs.

I am very impressed, speechless really... AND I think I am ready to exchange shoe shots!

Posted by Rebecca

Kaycee: I actually forgot about that part of the Honor Code, but I wasn't actually a student that summer, I hadn't started at BYU yet, so I guess it didn't apply just then...but good question! I totally defer to your expertise on youth, I really have no idea...I meant that to young people, things tend to be more black and white. They make snap judgements because they go by what they know, and frankly, what they know is not a lot. So adults, and especially teachers (I'm totally kissing your buttocks here) help teach those kids that those signals, or cues, do not always apply. It's the adult that teaches a kid "you can't judge a book by its cover..." I guess I am thinking that kids judge more naively and that adults SHOULD know better, although they often do not act like it...

I wish I had asked you to do a survey with your students to describe certain people...that would have been SO interesting...

Posted by Carrie Ann

Carrie Ann... GIRL! You are amazing. Thank you so much for writing this. It is absolutly perfect.

Posted by Sarah Marinara

Carrie Ann: What would have been more amazing is if I had thought to do the survey myself. My buttocks always appreciate the attention. :) 

Posted by Kaycee

Kacy: what does the "F" stands for? I've never been clear on that... 

Posted by Carrie Ann

CA...once again, you keep me reading and wanting more...fabulous, girl...fabulous.

Working in the Corporate/Business world...I find that adults can be VERY judgemental...yes, they really should know better, and they probably do, but they judge anyway. I think we all still have first impressions, even as adults. It may not affect you in the same way, but I think we all pass judgement in one form or another. Its not always bad... 

Posted by JP

I think both adults and youth judge, but for different reasons.

Now on to the real subject of my comments, this skirt you wore. I have a thought, maybe you should have worn it when you did your Domestic Diva Video, sex always sales sister.

Posted by Cameron

Carrie Ann... I think the F is for the wing they inhabited in high school... the F'dudes all had lockers in the F wing. 

Posted by Rebecca

I think if we taught girls some of the basic principles of clothing design, they might make better fashion choices. For example, those pants with the really low waistlines make your butt look large and will make any but six-pack abs hang over the waistband. That's all well and good if your butt is way too small and your abs too tight, but the rest of us... well... we have to wear out-of-style pants that don't accentuate our figures' "negatives." 

Posted by Wacky Hermit

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This Week's Topic:

  • The Sabbath Day

Various Authors

  • Monday:
    Kaycee opted out of Mormondom 4 years ago. She calls herself agnostic.
  • Tuesday:
    Sarah is not your average Gospel Doctrine Teacher.
  • Wednesday:
    Carrie Ann comes from pioneer stock, and lives in Provo, but is open minded and fair.
  • Thursday:
    Ned Flanders hasn't been to church in a while, but maintains an interest in all things Mormon.
  • Friday:
    John C. is an academic with a sense of humor and a testimony.
  • Saturday:
    JP's not going to church and feeling okay about it.

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